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UK unveils immigration curbs as EU prepares for no-deal Brexit

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

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LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Britain published proposals Wednesday for EU immigration curbs after Brexit as business groups warned the UK economy was not ready for the country to crash out of the bloc with no divorce deal in place.

The proposals include a temporary work visa system similar to "guest worker" systems in other countries as well as a consultation on a salary threshold for workers who would be allowed to settle in Britain.

The European Union also on Wednesday said it was adopting backup plans in case of a no-deal Brexit, while Prime Minister Theresa May faced another barrage of criticism in parliament for delaying a critical vote on her withdrawal deal.

Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May of "recklessly running down the clock" by seeking to ensure that MPs only have a choice between her deal and no-deal when parliament will be allowed to vote next month.

"She is holding parliament and the country to ransom," he said, accusing her of a "criminal waste of money" with stepped-up no deal contingency planning.

Corbyn was later upbraided by Conservative MPs who said he had muttered "stupid woman" at May when she mocked him over his indecision and was asked to apologise to parliament.

But a Labour spokesman said Corbyn had said "stupid people".

- Need for 'sustainable' immigration -

May has vowed to end free movement of people from Europe, saying that this was one of the main reasons that Britons voted to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum.

Immigration levels have already fallen since the referendum.

Net migration to Britain was around 280,000 last year, a decrease from levels of more than 300,000 in 2014 and 2015.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said visas would be introduced for EU nationals arriving to live in Britain after Brexit.

The new system will be based on skills, not nationality, putting EU and non-EU citizens on the same footing.

"In the future, everyone other than British and Irish citizens will need to get UK permission before they can come here," he told lawmakers.

The proposals include one-year visas for workers of any skill level that are aimed at protecting sectors of the economy that are reliant on lower skilled labour.

While in Britain, these temporary workers would not be entitled to access public funds or bring in dependant family members or seek permanent settlement.

There would also be a "cooling-off period" prohibiting them from renewing their visa for a year. "The future system is about making sure immigration works in the best interests of the UK," Javid added, noting it would "bring annual net migration down to more sustainable levels".

During prime minister's questions, May said her government remained committed to a long-held goal of bringing it down to tens of thousands annually.

Javid said the proposals "will give protection to British workers" and "help drive up wages and productivity across our economy".

- 'Misguided' approach -

The interior minister did not detail the level of the annual salary threshold -- a highly contested proposal -- but said it could be "30,000 (33,000 euros, $38,000) or thereabouts".

He said the threshold could be lowered to encourage foreign students to stay and work in the UK and for certain parts of the economy in which a labour shortage could be proven.

The immigration proposals are aimed at winning over Brexit hardliners who have resisted voting in favour of the deal that May has struck with EU leaders.

But they will cause anger in parts of Britain, such as London, that have benefited from EU immigration.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the government's approach was "misguided" and "risks doing profound damage to growth, jobs and communities across London and the UK".

Meanwhile, the political deadlock in Westminster has raised the prospects of either a second referendum or of a no-deal Brexit when the negotiating time runs out on March 29 next year.

After the British government outlined Tuesday its no-deal contingency planning, the European Commission said Wednesday it was acting "to ensure that the necessary measures can enter into application on 30 March 2019".

Its package would "limit the most significant damage" caused by such a scenario, and covers 14 areas where a "no-deal" Brexit "would create major disruption for citizens and businesses."

They include financial services, air transport, customs and climate policy.

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